- From: Gareth McCaughan <Gareth.McCaughan@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: 13 Jun 2006 00:56:41 +0100
On an intellectual level what I found interesting, is not the
precise strength of your arguments against theism but the question
of what you would regard as an argument in favour of God's
The obvious sort of thing (albeit rather unimaginative,
I suppose) would be some sort of event that's terribly
improbable if God isn't there, much less so if he is,
and (so to speak) bearing his signature. In a word, a
miracle. The evidence that the thing had happened would
need to be pretty good, so as to rule out fraud and
There are other possibilities with the same sort of
logical structure. For instance, if it turned out that
Christians *are* consistently much better people than
non-Christians (which doesn't seem to be the case,
but let's suppose such an effect emerges clearly when
some category of obviously-not-very-sincere "Christians"
is excluded) then that would be evidence in favour of
Christianity. (Mostly on the grounds that if Christianity
is right then one should expect something of the kind,
on account of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.)
There might in principle be some sort of first-principles
argument, using only "broad-brush" facts about the world,
of the sort that Aquinas used. I've never seen any such
argument that wasn't (to my mind) fairly obviously rubbish,
and that was true long before my deconversion, but it's
always possible that there's something important I've
Some sort of "religious experience" might change my mind.
The mere fact that such experiences happen doesn't seem
to me like much evidence for anything, but it's always
possible that there's some quality about them (or some
of them) that can be appreciated properly only from within.
(Of course certain imaginable religious experiences would
also be miracles, as for instance if they involved a bunch
of revelations that turned out to be verifiable. And of
course there's also the possibility that a "religious
experience" might *wrongly* reconvert me.)
But I'm not fussy. Well, I *am* fussy, but in the following
specific way I'm not fussy. I don't have strong preconceptions
about what an argument for or against the existence (or any
specific claim about the nature) of God should look like.
I have some experience of particular kinds of argument that
tend to fail in predictable ways, so I wouldn't be very hopeful
about any alleged first-principles argument, but I can't
rule such things out.
For myself, a large part of my intellectual grounds for theism is a
conviction that various claims about meaning, consistency, objective
morality etc require some variety of theism for their justification.
I acknowledge the weaknesses of this sort of argument, not just the
argument that these claims can be satisfied without a God, but (more
troubling to me personally) the argument that these claims cannot be
satisfied even if God does exist.
However, I get the impression from things you have posted in recent
threads that your problem with such arguments may be deeper and more
fundamental. ie that you regard this sort of argument as 'broken' in
principle.If, for example I were to suggest that you appear more
convinced about the capacity of human reason to settle fundamental
questions about existence, than is justified on your current
premisses then IIUC the heart of your disagreement would not be the
weaknesses of the specific argument, but the idea that this could be
if correct an argument for believing in God. At most it would be an
argument for limiting the capacity of human reason, not an argument
for belief in God.
Am I right here or am I radically misunderstanding you ?
You're right. I am, as I say above, prepared to consider the
possibility that some such argument might work; but I have
trouble seeing how it could, and the ones I've looked at
so far don't impress me. The line of argument you sketch
does, indeed, seem more like an argument for limiting one's
confidence in human reason (which is, um, reasonable enough
in view of how easily we make all sorts of errors in our
thinking) than like an argument for theism, still less for
anything so specific as Christianity. To make it such an
argument, I suppose you'd need to cast it as an abduction,
an "inference to the best explanation". But for that, there'd
need to be some clear connection between theism and human
reason -- say, a good, non-contrived reason to expect God
to create people with much the sort of reasoning abilities
we like to think we have. But I don't see that there is
any such reason; why should he prefer that to perfect reasoners,
or to ones somewhat better or somewhat worse at reasoning
than we are? A hypothesis that explains everything equally
doesn't really explain anything.
Likewise, but more so, for parallel arguments based on morals;
"more so" because two other explanations are available that
don't seem like good options in the case of reasoning. (1) It
might turn out that moral realism is wrong. (2) It might turn
out that moral realism is right, but that moral values are
something like logical consequences of non-moral facts (e.g.,
about what goal-seeking entities there are and what their
goals are, or something like that).
This whole topic is very interesting; it seems a bit more likely
than most to hide some important subtlety that I've completely
missed, though it's hard to see how any argument of the kind we're
discussing could have enough force to outweigh the arguments
on the other side.
..sig under construc
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